education as formation

there are only a few things about my teaching experience that really upset me. one is dealing with homophobia (it’s bad). second, dealing with racism (the jokes aren’t funny). and three, dealing with islamaphobia (tired of the ign’ance).

as a grad student, i recall having a big debate with some of my peers regarding a joke i made about wanting to “indoctrinate” my students. indoctrinate is a pretty loaded word, but i kinda meant it. some of my peers felt like my job as a teacher is to prepare my students to pass their standardized tests. the argument goes that i need to teach them how to read and express their thoughts in writing effectively, regardless of how bigoted those thoughts might be. while the principle behind those sentiments is understandable, i just disagree. there are a lot of dubious beliefs my students hold, and it seems like it’d be irresponsible of me to not try and influence those beliefs.

today, as we discussed some readings regarding the proposed mosque near ground zero in nyc, i was stunned to find how many of my students 1) think president obama is muslim (because his middle name is hussein) 2) think “the muslims” were behind 9/11, 3) think the mosque would be used as a terrorist training center, and 4) honestly believe the only people who would support the building of the mosque are other muslims. i was even more frustrated to hear my student’s bible study leader had hijacked pauls’ everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial to imply that the mosque might be legal, but is still “immoral” (her words). now that is irresponsible.

i continued on with my work today, building on our reading and writing skills, but lurking in the back of my mind the whole time was the thought that i couldn’t allow my students to leave my classroom at the end of the year with such a twisted worldview. the purpose of education can’t be centered entirely on helping kids with the mastery of certain skills (however important they may be), but there has to be, in my opinion, some element of character formation (a la MLK, who argued that a true education is equal parts intellectual development and moral growth). indeed, if students leave my class and graduate and are able to read and understand complex texts, but still maintain certain prejudices, well they really didn’t get much an education at all.


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